It has been my curse to watch the Ormsby House and its progress, or rather its lack of progress, for much of my adult life. Ever since I posted my first pictures of the place 17 years ago, this hotel has hung around my neck and weighed me down. Saner people laughed it off as a lost cause a long time ago, but I dedicated myself to informing all you fine people of the ups and downs of this project until it’s finished. That’s why I should be excited to hear that the Ormsby House has a new buyer lined up, one with big plans on what to do with the building, but instead I just feel tired.
This is big news, though. These are the most concrete plans we’ve had in probably a decade regarding the old hotel-casino near the heart of downtown. Especially ever since the current owners, who spent more than 15 years working on the renovation, decided to give up on the project and sell the building. It was 2016 when they announced the building for sale, and in the last 3 years there have been rumors about potential buyers but no official announcements. It was starting to feel like the sale of the property would drag on as long as the renovation did.
So it was a bit of a shock in September 2019 when the news came out that a buyer had been found. The buyer is Joe D’Angelo, president of Joshua Ventures, a real estate developer from Las Vegas. D’Angelo wants to buy the old hotel for $15 million, and he has big plans for the property, plans which he has outlined in a few interviews with local media outlets. Here are some of his ideas:
- Convert it to a mixed-use building, without a casino
- Retail/restaurant/commercial on the first two floors, with a “living room” atmosphere
- Some hotel rooms
- Majority of floors for residential suites
- Five-star amenities, including health insurance for renters and concierge in-house medical care
- Culinary Arts school
- Showroom/convention space
- Green energy plant
- Hydroponics farm
- Convert Curry Street to a public plaza
Here are the floor plans that he provided to the Nevada Appeal along with their interview. Sorry some of the text is hard to read.
When I list everything out like that, it sounds like a perfectly fine, if a little ambitious, plan for how to bring new life to the Ormsby House. And if it was just presented like that, this might be the end of this article.
But this isn’t the end of the article, because of the details that I left out. And most of those details come from the leader of this project, Joe D’Angelo. D’Angelo has turned this plan from a routine announcement of a new development to a lightning rod for controversy, all through some of the audacious things he has said in the interviews above. The Carson Now article from the 27th is especially rich for this stuff, and has got people calling him a “flim flam man” and his plan “a pile of wild horse hockey” in the comments. So let’s see if we can break down why.
First was the prices he wants to charge. He is buying the building for $15 million and expects to put many more millions into construction to make it a five-star property. So how will he make his money back? Through rents on the residential suites in the tower. He has proposed prices of $10,000 per month for a one-room suite (studio apartment basically), and $22,000 for a two-room. Those prices were enough to raise the eyebrows of nearly everyone in town. Many people thought they were a typo at first, until they were repeated in other interviews. D’Angelo brushed it off by saying, “wealthy people will pay that price.” He also says he will be able to get grant money and money from insurance companies to subsidize part of the rent for residents, and unfurnished units would be available for less. But still, there are so many questions raised by this that the interviews are vague to answer. Why would insurance companies pay a portion of a wealthy person’s rent? The interviews give tantalizing hints, talking about medical concierge care, oxygen pumped directly into the rooms, defibrillators, and an on-site pharmacy that makes it sound like this will be some kind of assisted-living or semi-assisted-living facility. But D’Angelo also says “This is not a convalescent home. This is not a group home. This is adult living.” So the plan is a little unclear. He also compares this plan to what Las Vegas hotels have, saying, “If the Sheik of Bahrain is visiting a Las Vegas resort and gets injured, he’s not going to go into the neighborhood urgent care.” That’s probably true, but the Sheik of Bahrain is also probably not renting a room in Carson City.
Another controversial point is that he wants to rename the building. Instead of the Ormsby House it would be named Joshua’s House, inspired by his ministry in Las Vegas. His roots in ministry are also behind his decision to have the property be gambling- and alcohol-free. D’Angelo previously had planned to build a homeless community near Pahrump named Joshua’s Community, but those plans fell apart when the BLM wouldn’t give him the land to build on. He insists that this plan, despite having a similar name, is not going to be another homeless community.
But it’s probably some of his other quotes that have everyone so dubious about these plans and his intentions. When asked where the funding would come from, he says he doesn’t have “investors”, rather he has “benefactors” who would be getting a tax break from putting money into this project. When asked about permitting and getting approval from the city for his plans he gets very defensive, saying that the city wants him to get a Special Use permit, but that his plans are so unique that they aren’t covered by any current rules and regulations, therefore a special permit is not needed. His combative attitude towards the city is pretty clear. “They can’t hold me against rules that aren’t there. It’s not their money, it’s not their building so if they want to play that game, I will walk. My negotiations with them are very obvious: Give me what I want.” His attitude is similar towards people who don’t like the name of the building changing. “They don’t want the name to be changed, they don’t want the history to be lost. The name hasn’t done anyone any good for the past 19 years. It’s like common sense has gone straight out the door.” About the BLM denying his land use in southern Nevada, he brings out the old cliche about the land belonging to the American people, not the government.
His plans for the building sound reasonable on the surface, but then he goes into extra details that start to make them sound unreasonable. He wants a culinary arts school on property, but then he says he will be able to attract Gordon Ramsey and Guy Fieri for appearances there. He will build a showroom and rent it out for proms and community events, but then he also says he is going to attract the biggest and best musical acts. He wants to have renewable energy generation on site, but then he starts talking about futuristic water-powered energy that his team of engineers are working on inventing, and how he’ll never sell out to bigger energy companies. He says he wants to bring a Wow Factor to the property that it doesn’t have now, but then he starts talking about the kind of displays the casinos in Las Vegas have. But he also says, “I don’t want to turn you into Las Vegas. You’ll do that on your own in time. I just want to have one property, trick it out, put in some nice waterfalls, trim the trees. What’s the problem?”
Overall, the problem does seem to be that he has too much Las Vegas thinking in him. He’s not planning this to be a good fit for Carson City because he doesn’t know anything about Carson City. This really is more of a Las Vegas idea, but he’s building it here because this is where there’s a building for sale. He has a disdain for the city government, he has a disdain for the community who is worried about losing some of the history of the Ormsby House, and he has grand ideas that seem difficult, at best, to pull off. If he wants to try to give it a go, I wish him godspeed. But it’s easy to see why nobody around here is taking him seriously. It’s worth a read to go through both that Carson Now article and the long list of comments underneath. And it’s not just online commenters either. I was at dinner the other night and overhead a couple at another table reading quotes from his interview and having a good hearty laugh.
I think the best comment on that article is the one that sums it all up perfectly.
“We disagree on a lot of topics in Carson. One thing this scam artist has succeeded in doing, is bringing us all together against him.”
UPDATE: This plan fizzled out fast. Joe D’Angelo’s plans went in front of Carson City’s major plan review team, which is an informal way for the various city departments to chime in on the development and explain any concerns they see that may stand in the way of permits being issued. The city came back with a list of recommendations and identified potential pitfalls with the plan that went again current zoning laws, and areas where special use permits would be required. And Joe D’Angelo, true to his promise to just walk away if the City didn’t bend over backwards to support him, did just that. He withdrew his purchase offer and gave up on the plan. Now the Ormsby House still sits vacant and waiting for another buyer to come along. But there has been one development; the closed Arco gas station next door was demolished in November 2019.